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If I can do it, others can too, says a Roma student

The “zero year” gave Robert Sutorý the chance to be the first in his family to attend university.

Robert Sutorý works as an outreach social worker for the town of Hranice.

“I encourage others to continue with their studies, and so I have to take my own advice as well.” This is the work philosophy of Robert Sutorý, who works as an outreach social worker for the town of Hranice. He really does live by his words. He began with a “zero year” preparing Roma students for university and now he is close to graduating from a distance master’s course.

The Masaryk University Faculty of Education has been offering the preparatory year for about ten years, and Sutorý started attending it in 2009. At the time, he was finishing a secondary school which focused on social and legal education and he knew he wanted to continue with his studies. He also knew he wanted to attend a zero year. In the end, he decided to study in Brno rather than in Olomouc, which was also an option.

“There were 18 people in my year with classes every other week. I still remember how important it was for all of us that we could get first-hand experience with the university environment,” says Sutorý, describing a situation that might, for some people, be hard to imagine. He was in that situation himself. As the first university student in his family, he had nobody he could ask to find out what it was like, how you hand in homework, where you get textbooks from and what are those credits that everyone talks about?

“It is a huge problem, even if it doesn’t look like one. When you have nobody to ask questions to, you don’t even realise that you could study at university. You are automatically disqualified,” says Sutorý, who meets people with this mindset every day. “The Roma usually think that you have to be extraordinarily intelligent to be admitted to a university. In reality, it is enough to be hard-working and motivated. I try to convince them that if I could do it, they can do it as well.”

Sutorý, who also runs an afterschool sports and music group at the local children and youth centre in Hranice and provides after-school tutoring to Roma children, has an example to give from his own family. Following his lead, his sister and his nephew also became university students. “It’s a bit of a competition. When I finished my bachelor’s studies, they said they wanted to have the same degree as I do. And now they want to go on to a master’s programme,” says the social worker and teacher with a smile.

If he could improve the preparatory year, which is part of the university’s effort to make university programmes accessible to everybody, he would put more stress on advertising the zero year and add English lessons. “The zero year course is relatively unknown, which is a pity. Education is still limited to a very small group of Roma, but we need this group to grow as much as possible,” says Sutorý. He himself is doing everything in his power to help this cause.

When he picked up to phone to answer questions for the Muni website, he was just saying goodbye to two clients who are going to apply for university this year.